Korean horror films have been around since the early years of Korean cinema, however, it was not until the late 1990s that the genre began to experience a renewal. Many of the Korean horror films tend to focus on the suffering and the anguish of characters rather than focus on the explicit "blood and guts" aspect of horror. Korean horror features many of the same motifs, themes, and imagery as Japanese horror.
Modern South Korean horror films are typically distinguished by stylish directing, themes of social commentary, and genre blending. The horror and thriller genres are cited as gaining international attention to South Korean Cinema.
American Hollywood has adapted several Korean horror films such as Oldboy, Into the Mirror (2003), and A Tale of Two Sisters (2003). Train to Busan (2016) and The Wailing (2016) are rumored to currently have remakes in talks for production.
The female ghost
The expression, "When a woman is full of resentment, she will bring frost in May and June" may offer some explanation for the popularity of the female ghost that is often featured in Korean horror films. Her deep feeling of resentment is cold enough to freeze the hot air that occurs during those months. The woman's vengeance is a thing to be feared, thus becoming the object of horror. In the past women have been oppressed and ignored for so long that the horrific rage and vengeance we see in the films have been brought upon by the many years of repression. Another belief is that when a female dies before she gets to enjoy the pleasures of marriage and having children, she will not be able to move on to the "other side". Instead she becomes trapped between the two worlds and causes horrific phenomena. The hierarchical domestic status a man's mother has and the often strained relationship with her daughter-in-laws in Korea is also used as a means of creating female villains in media. Films such as A Devilish Homicide (1965) and The Hole (1997 film) cast a murderous or cruel mother-in-law against the protagonist.
South Korean cinema is known for violent thrillers with themes of revenge like Bedevilled, I Saw the Devil (2010), and The Vengeance Trilogy. Recent revenge films also tend to follow the characters seeking revenge rather than the protagonist being a victim of a vengeful ghost or person. The desire to create and see films about revenge is often explained as a result of social anger built up in a populace by South Korea's turbulent history. Park Chan-wook director of The Vengeance Trilogy has said that his revenge motivated movies serve as a reaction to Korean culture's traditional value of peace making and Forgiveness.
2010 Korean Horror Film Festival
The 2010 Korean Horror Film Festival was held in Mandaluyong City in the Philippines at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall from October 27–31 and through November 2–4. It worked together with the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, The Korean-Philippine Foundation, Inc. and Shangri-La Plaza. With free admission attendees were treated to some of the best and highly successful Korean horror films. Films such as Arang, The Red Shoes, M, Hansel and Gretel, Ghost, Paradise Murdered, and Epitaph were among the films showcased.
Influential Korean horror films
Whispering Corridors (1998) is seen as the film to have sparked the explosion of the Korean horror genre. It centers on the theme of school girls and the mysterious "other side", but also offered criticism of the Korean school system. Four more distinct horror films set in all girls schools were made as part of Whispering Corridors (film series).
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) is the highest grossing Korean horror film so far and the first to be screened in America. It was remade in America in 2009 as The Uninvited. Based on a folk tale titled Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, it tells the story of two sisters dealing with a controlling stepmother and a passive father.
Save the Green Planet! (2003) demonstrates Korean cinema's ability to blend genre in non-traditional ways. The film follows an unstable man who kidnaps and tortures an executive he believes to be an alien. It combines slapstick comedy, psychological thriller and sci fi horror.
Train to Busan (2016) is an action horror take on the Zombie apocalypse. A man and his young daughter journey to see the girl's mother when a zombie outbreak occurs, forcing the passengers to attempt to survive till they can reach a safe zone in Busan. The film is one of the most internationally successful films from South Korea and broke domestic box office records.
Films such as Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018) have brought Korean horror films even more international attention.
List of notable films
- 0.0 MHz
- 301, 302
- A Tale of Two Sisters
- Antarctic Journal
- Death Bell (Series)
- Doll Master
- Evil Twin
- A Ghost Story of Joseon Dynasty
- Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum
- Hansel and Gretel
- Horror Stories (Series)
- I Saw the Devil
- Into the Mirror
- The Isle
- Killer Toon
- Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait
- Paradise Murdered
- The Quiet Family
- The Record
- Red Eye
- The Red Shoes
- The Ring Virus
- Say Yes
- Someone Behind You
- Suddenly at Midnight
- Svaha: The Sixth Finger
- Tell Me Something
- The Cat
- The Divine Fury
- The Mimic
- Three (Series)
- To Sir, with Love
- Train to Busan
- Unborn But Forgotten
- The Uninvited
- The Wailing
- Whispering Corridors (Series)
- The Wig
- The Wrath
Korean horror directors
- Ahn Byeong-ki – director of the horror films Nightmare, Phone, Bunshinsaba, and APT
- Bong Joon-ho – director of the horror film The Host and writer of Antarctic Journal
- Kim Dong-bin – director of the horror films The Ring Virus and Red Eye
- Kim Jee-woon – director of the horror films A Tale of Two Sisters, Three (the segment "Memories"), and The Quiet Family
- Kong Su-chang – director of the horror films Tell Me Something, R-Point, and Death Bell
- Park Ki-hyung – director of the horror films Whispering Corridors and Acacia
- Yu Seon-dong – director of the film Death Bell 2: Bloody Camp
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